Thursday, July 23, 2009

Australia's Digital Economy: Future Directions

On 14 July, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy, released the Australia's Digital Economy: Future Directions Final Report.
I will restrict my comments essentially to the copyright issues and implications raised by the Report. For those of you wondering what the 'digital economy' actually is, the Australian Government definition is:
'The global network of economic and social activities that are enabled by information and communications technologies, such as the internet, mobile and sensor networks.'
The Report is expressed to outline 'the areas of focus for government, industry and the community to maximise the benefits of the digital economy for all Australians.' The Report breaks up the elements of the successful digital economy among three stakeholders: government, industry and comunity, each with different outcomes.
For Government, the success factors include facilitating innovation, and reference is made to the outcomes of the Innovation Review : Powering Ideas, launched on 12 May 2009.
The Future Directions Report again emphasises the need to open up access to government information: 'In addition to promoting public sector innovation, government can also faciliatate private sector innovation for digital ecoomy benefit through more open information strategies and an innovation agenda designed to promote a strong culture of commercialising digital innovation.'
Whilst this is so broadly worded one can only guess what it may mean, it is intended to refer, at least in part, to access to knowledge platforms such as Creative Commons. The Report continues:
'A open access approach to the release of public sector information is a logical response to the digital economy and innovation benefits that can result from new and emerging digital use and re-use, subject to privacy, national security or confidentiality concerns. In this context "open access" means access on terms and in formats that clearly permit and enable such use and re-use by any member of the public. This allows anyone with an innovative idea to add value to existing public sector information for the common good, often in intially unforeseen or unanticipated ways.'
So if any of you have a fun idea for remixing a government report (for the common good) let me know! Although on a more serious note, this article by Paula Bray outlines an interesting project undertaken by the Powerhouse Museum using Flickr.
The Government 2.0 Taskforce has been instructed to advise and assist with respect to making public sector information more accessible and usable. (More about them in a later blog.)
The Report then picks up the question of copyright safe harbours, wondering aloud whether the present safe harbour scheme works effectively for some types of online service providers? The Report outlines the pros and cons and then states that the Government will be considering whether the scope of the safe harbour scheme should be expanded to include additional types of online service providers.
Finally, the Report states that the issue of peer-to-peer file sharing is currently being considered by Government, noting that the content industry has stated that file-sharing is 'a barrier to further investment in sustainable and innovative content initiatives in Australia ' (presumably this is only illegal file sharing). The possible solution noted by the Report is the 'three strikes' or 'graudated response' approach, pursuant to which ISPs would send notices to users suspected of unauthorised file sharing, outlining an escalating level of penalties on the user's account. So watch out for work on reform of this area soon. Only oblique reference is made to the current Internet filtering trials.

BTW on a related note, for some of my thoughts on the Innovation Review you can see my slides from the Australian Copyright Council conference in November 2008 here.
I will be presenting on the topic of copyright and innovation on 6 August here.

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